Last week I attended the wake of a fellow EMT. I did not know her but I didn’t have to. You see, once a first responder, always a first responder. I had to pay my respects. I had to be there.
When I was interviewed after I left the funeral home, the reporter would ask me what it was like inside. I told her, “I mean no disrespect but what’s inside is a story for you to share with your readers. What’s inside for me, are broken hearts, lives that must start to heal and human beings from all over saying goodbye to one of our own. There is a reason why you are not allowed in there.” She said she understood and then proceeded to ask me other questions. I thought about it at first and then I realized, I tell stories of people who have died almost 16 years ago. I do it because I want people to never forget and while I did not know Yadira, I thought this is the moment where a reporter can tell our stories. Stories where we are always in danger, where we have no way out should someone come after us. I told her stories of courage and how we would do it all over again, whatever the call was, because it’s not a job, it’s a calling.
I had hoped that this would be a good way to let the world know that we don’t have the same safety features in place as other first responders do. Instead my comments were put in the obituary section and just a few words were mentioned. Already forgotten.
I’ve been told so many times that the job of a first responder is something we all chose. Yes indeed we did. But it wasn’t for the money, it certainly wasn’t because of the uniform or the city tin we all get called shields. It was because each and every one of us understood the need to help others, to save lives and to make a difference. It’s not a job, it’s a calling.
In the midst of going to the wake, we would hear of 3 more first responders that died due to 9/11 related illnesses. In January, we lost 9, February we lost 9 and March was looking to be the same.
Is this our new normal? Are we to wait, holding our breaths, that today will be the day someone else will die? It seems that way.
There is much sadness in our community and it doesn’t look like it will get any better.
My husband used to put his uniform in the back of the closet because he didn’t use it much and now it seems it goes to the cleaners at least once a month, “to have it ready for the next funeral,” as he says.
I don’t wear a uniform. I don’t want to. I don’t want to wear a suit, a nice dress or a suitable outfit for any funeral. I don’t want to go to any more funerals.
I want my friends to be free of disease. I want my friends to get well and begin to live the lives that were taken from them. In a perfect world..
Today, I have to say goodbye to yet another friend.
Today I have to find the strength to carry on.
Today I have another story to tell.